With HGEM mystery dining, you can enjoy meals, drinks and other experiences, in exchange for an honest review. I’ve completed 42 assignments for HGEM, so I’m going to explain exactly what’s involved. That way, you can decide if this is a money-saving, foodie side hustle that you’d like to explore for yourself.
What is HGEM?
HGEM is a mystery dining company that’s been on the scene since 2003. The company works with over 10,000 pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and caterers around the world. They work with well-known brands, including wagamama, Greene King, Malmaison, Pret a Manger and Empire Cinemas.
Mystery diners provide invaluable feedback, because it’s a genuine insight into the guest experience. Most eateries have some sort of mystery diner programme in operation, because companies know how useful mystery shopping research is. That’s why they commission the likes of HGEM mystery dining. your report will be full of tips about their business and that type of feedback is invaluable. The whole mystery dining process is about guest experience management and making tweaks and changes where necessary.
Becoming a mystery diner – the HGEM application process
Anybody can sign up to be a HGEM mystery diner and in my experience, most people that apply do get accepted. However, as a word of warning, make sure you take time and care with your application. An ex colleague of mine applied, but she wasn’t successful, despite working as a professional copywriter. I can only imagine that her application was rushed for her to have been unsuccessful. HGEM will let you know either way though, via email.
It is possible to be refused due to HGEM not having the demand in your area. But if that’s the case, you can just apply again in six months’ time.
How to book your mystery guest assignments
Once you have been successful, you’ll be free to choose your territories and to pick up assignments. I highlighted the areas near where I lived and near my place of work and I was then presented with a list of jobs that were available. I went through a period of being in London as well, so I highlighted that area too, so I could potentially enjoy some free food when I was on my travels.
You can view the assignments on a map, or as a list view. You’re then free to click on each one to read more about it. You’ll be able to see the overall brief, the number of people required to go, the reimbursement and options as to when you can complete the assignment. You can then click to apply and if you’re successful then the job will appear in your list of upcoming assignments.
Usually the assignment will involve dining in a restaurant. However, through my work with HGEM, I’ve also looked around function rooms, I’ve made dinner reservations and I’ve ordered takeout.
You also need to be quick if you’ve clicked into a newly released assignment. Some of the more popular ones take minutes to be assigned. With that in mind, it’s worth ensuring that you’re checking the site regularly. I usually find that it updates during the working day, so it might be worth getting in the habit of checking the site during your lunch break.
Do you explain that you’re not a real guest?
When you go on one of these assignments, letting slip that you’re mystery diners, there to review the experience, is a total faux pas. This is because the staff will know you’re there to mark them (so to speak), so you might receive a superior experience to the average customer.
The idea is that you blend in and you’re treated like an average customer. That way, you can give genuine feedback about how customers are treated.
Are you just a regular customer?
When you go out on a mystery dine, you’re blending in with other diners, but you’re not a usual customer. You are there to get feedback. That means that you may have to order a certain item, or ask a certain question. It’s your job to get useful feedback, the food is just a nice perk!
Make sure you read the brief of each assignment thoroughly before going out to complete a job. The instructions are specific to the assignment and if you don’t complete them correctly, then you may not receive reimbursement.
Does HGEM cover tips?
Sometimes, the budget you get from HGEM mystery dining will cover gratuities, but not always. However, you are getting the meal and drinks for free, so if you enjoyed them and you felt the service was good, then you should tip as you usually would.
Reporting on your guest experience
After you’ve completed your dine, you’ll be asked to complete a report, usually within 24 hours of your visit. You’ll also be asked for your phone number too, so that a HGEM staff member can contact you to discuss anything that’s unclear within the report.
The content of each report will vary. But typically, you’ll be asked about cleanliness, food quality and your customer services experiences. Each report is different, but you always have to provide a receipt and at least one image. I find that the majority of the reports take me around 90 minutes to complete.
It usually takes HGEM staff a couple of days to quality assure your report and they always give you feedback. They explain what you did well and what you could improve going forward. I find the feedback really helpful, as it enables me to improve the quality of my reports.
Levelling up for better dining experiences
Each job has a number of points attached to it. The points range from 10 up to 100, but most jobs initially have 10 points associated with them. However, if HGEM is struggling to fill a job, or they need something completed quickly, the number of points may be increased as an incentive.
Points are important because you’re rewarded them for completing jobs and they enable diners to level up. All guests start as a bronze mystery diner. You then move to silver, gold and finally to platinum as you gain experience.
When I was a bronze member, I’d pick up sandwich and sushi jobs close to where I work. I then started to get assignments at pubs and mainstream restaurants. However, when I hit platinum, the plush jobs started to land. I’ve eaten in some of Manchester’s hippest restaurants and I was also able to do some overnight hotel reviews.
I was sent a small gift in the post from HGEM when I hit 500 points. This was an unexpected treat. I’ve also read, on the HGEM mystery dining forum, that the company sends out a bigger treat when you hit 1000 points. I don’t want to reveal what this is, as it isn’t a given and you certainly shouldn’t be mystery dining in pursuit of it. But it’s nice that HGEM recognises the loyalty of its diners in this way.
If you cancel an assignment then you will lose points, or you may find that you’re demoted down to gold, silver, or bronze level. I understand why HGEM does this, as they want to make sure that people who take jobs are committed to completing them. However, sometimes unexpected things crop up and being penalised can feel unfair. In those instances, I’ve called the HGEM office to explain and they’ve removed the job from my profile without penalty.
If you decide to proceed with HGEM, then you should be mindful of these penalties. I don’t think many people go into it wanting basic-level jobs, so it’s worth keeping in mind that by cancelling a lower-level job, you may slow down your chances of levelling up and snapping up one of the more lucrative dines.
The payment for each job comes directly from HGEM and the amount varies. I have received between £6.75 and £85 per job. If you’re a bronze member then you’ll only be able to book lower-paying dines. But as you work up the ranks, you’ll find that more higher paying jobs become available.
HGEM occasionally offers an additional monetary incentive to complete a dine. I think this tends to happen if they’re having problems filling an assignment, or if they need something to be completed urgently.
Typically, you’ll wait around three weeks for the payment to be processed and it’s paid directly into your bank account.
Is it worth becoming a customer undercover?
If you enjoy writing and you have an eye for detail, then it’s worth signing up to HGEM. The reports can be time consuming, the best jobs get snapped up quickly and you also have to be patient to be rewarded with high-value mystery dining experiences.
I wouldn’t recommend HGEM if you have children, because family dines are difficult to come by. Most jobs tend to have a note that explains that no babies or children can be there when you carry out the dine. But I continue to keep an eye on HGEM because I’m an established member and I know that I may be able to snap up one of the swankier dining opportunities.
That said, I would recommend HGEM mystery dining to those that have time and flexibility. Over an 18-month period I got over £1300 in free food and in the process, I got to try some amazing cuisine and to have some memorable experiences. I was also able to use mystery dines as an excuse to go on a date, or to catch up with a friend. If you’re time rich then it’s definitely worth joining the club.
Other foodies deals
HGEM is a great way of trying new food, but quite a lot of effort is required in return. If you feel that it would be too much faff, then why not check out other ways to getting some discounted grub:
If you enjoy your food, then you should check out my foodie section. There you’ll learn out a range of things, including the concept of dump bags and the secret to getting your Yorkshire puddings to rise every time.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2020 and has been completely revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.